With the series at 3-1 for Frölunda, they headed into game five in Skellefteå to face a tough as nails home team who wanted to force a game six in Gothenburg. The last time Frölunda won it all was 11 years ago and the only player left from that triumph is captain Joel Lundqvist, who has had a career-best year at age 34 this season.
He centred the top line today with former Leafs Joey Crabb and Spencer Abbott, who returned to the lineup from injury.
Andreas Johnson was again on the ice with centre Johan Sundström and Robin Figren, and of course, the scorching hot Montréal prospect Artturi Lehkonen was out there with his usual linemates too.
It was Lehkonen, on the first of several breakaways the home side allowed their visitors, who scored the first goal. It was Lehkonen, with Andreas Johnson in the box for an undisciplined crosscheck after a scrum in front of the Frölunda net, who made it 3-0 on another beautiful rush play.
That goal chased the Skellefteå goalie, Erik Hanses, who'd let in half the shots on goal he'd faced -- and it could have been worse, Joey Crabb flubbed a sweet opportunity, and fourth liner Anton Axelsson missed on his earlier breakaway.
The second period was wild hockey, with one team ready to just get on with the trophy presentation and seemingly unable to miss the net, and the other desperate to get something for all the shots they were throwing at the opposition. The score at the end of two was 5-2 Frölunda with the shots on goal 24-12 for Skellefteå.
The third period saw Frölunda attempting to turtle on their three-goal lead. It's not their forte, but goaltender Johan Gustafsson kept the door mostly shut, letting in one more to make the final score 5-3. Skellefteå outshot Frölunda 19-4 in the period and 43-16 on the game.
Johnson finished the playoffs with two goals and two assists. His time on ice diminished over the final series, and he played only 6:24 minutes in his last game, the lowest of all forwards.
I can't stop thinking about Nikita Zaitsev in the dying minutes of his loss to Magnitka, trying again and again to thread the needle and get a shot through from his office on the right point. Once, twice, a third time after a desperately effective dangle to get in position, and nothing came of it.
How does it feel to give all you have, to leave it on the ice as you're supposed to, and come up short?
How does it feel for Andreas Johnson to struggle game after game, to be cold as ice while your rival burns bright enough to scorch the retinas? How does it feel to watch him nail down the championship with a highlight reel goal from the penalty box. How does it feel to not be the man of the hour, any of them, and win it all anyway?
For Johnson, this is a historic moment. He is the only player ever to win gold at all levels for Frölunda: U16, U18, U20 and now the big one. Add to that the CHL championship this year, and there's nothing more for him to achieve with the team. The opportunities for glory have passed him by.
We should not ignore Johnson's prodigious contribution to the regular season this year. But playoff glory is what gets attention.
Lehkonen has been flying under the radar too long. SWE league playoff leading scorers are usually in the "best player outside NHL" debate.— Risto Pakarinen (@puckarinen) 24 April 2016
It's odd to think of both Johnson and Zaitsev in similar mental spaces, the winner and the loser, the champion and the unhappy owner of a second place finish. They have to put it behind them, move on from their youth on their home town teams and move forward to try to make it in the NHL. Hockey doesn't take many days off anymore; you don't have time to mourn your losses or your successes. You have to get back on the treadmill and face the future.
For both of these guys, the winner and the loser, the direction they're facing is Toronto, where the next chance of success or failure, hollow victory or noble defeat awaits them both.